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Thread: Commentary on State of BP from Game Industry Professional

  1. #1
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    Commentary on State of BP from Game Industry Professional

    I too feel compelled to offer some observations and possibly even useful advice regarding the general downturn – not just with the most recent experience in the Ascension raid, but in what I have observed in Battle Pirates over the last year or so.

    First, a little background as to who I am. I have over 28 years of professional experience in software and tech, and I have been in the games industry for the last 16 years. I’ve been an Executive Producer for one of Zynga’s premier games and I am currently the head of operations for an East-Coast independent game developer. I’ve been playing Battle Pirates for the last three years. I’ve always enjoyed the game and I have probably spent several hundred dollars over those three years. I do not have an issue in paying reasonably for a game where I continue to get enjoyment.
    What I have observed over the last year is cause for concern. I have observed similar trends firsthand having worked for Zynga, where I was responsible for maintaining a game that was more than four years old when joined, and was already experiencing a declining revenue curve and player interest similar to what I am sure Battle Pirates is expiring now.

    First of all, we must understand as players that such trends are typical. Every game has their lifecycle. Sooner or later games tend to become less interesting to us for a variety of reasons. I think such things as a game coming to the end of its life would be more acceptable if the game just didn’t generate the same level of excitement as it once did. But when it becomes clear that the propeller has come off and the boat has no direction, frustration mounts. You can see the backlash build in the forums with each new “what were they thinking” release.

    As someone who has been responsible for such games, I understand fully what the Kixeye team is going through. Inflammatory commentary from the community only serves to exacerbate the situation, and makes it more difficult for Kixeye to fully understand the ramifications of what they are doing as the constructive comments are buried in the chaff of whining and vitriol. But this is where my empathy for the BP development team ends.

    As an example of the prop coming off the shaft, I found it both humorous and depressing that the Battle Pirates team had to create a video that offered tips and tricks for the most recent Ascension raid, but they used as their example a retro’ed R10 V2H hull. The latest retro pack for the V2 was just recently released, and it would take about a month to retro from R5 to R10 (assuming you didn’t have any other retros in the queue, and your V2s were at R5 to start with). So in this one example we can see how out of touch the design team is with the typical player and how to set proper difficulty in the game. There are plenty of other examples such as the Kixeye designers introducing a new damage type (corrosive) while at the same time not offering a countermeasure, or even giving the players a heads up as to the nature of the new enemy so we can build/refit our fleets before the raid started.

    To give you guys the players a sense of what is going on behind the scenes, we must also understand that games of this age and revenue potential are most likely not maintained by the more experienced teams at Kixeye. No doubt the original designers, product managers, and producers have moved on to other products or have even left the company entirely. This leaves the more junior team to move the product forward. This is a difficult proposition for them as they may not have the experience, clout, or understanding of the game’s design considerations to come up with the necessary changes. Add to the fact that I am fairly certain that the executives at Kixeye are not in support of such changes anyway – they would rather just see the game milk what is left and then sunset so they can on to other things. From the buzz I am getting in the industry, the recent announcement from Kixeye do not bode well, and CEO Will Harbin has probably outlived his usefulness. (As an aside it’s generally regarded that Harbin is an empty vessel and has not made many friends with his style of management, lack of understanding with player engagement, or how to pivot the company to new games, technology, and platforms, so Kixeye would be well served to seek new, energized leadership).

    I do not subscribe to whining or empty commentary. I would not have taken the time to write this unless I had some suggestions to move the game forward. But I will not offer up specific features or minutia as this will just serve to confuse the issue. The bigger issue with any game like this at this point in its lifecycle is understand where it needs to go strategically – what are the major areas of concentration so all resulting design choices can be matched to the strategic imperative. Without setting the overall strategic design goals, the game will continue to spin its wheels and die an untimely death.

    First, I think it important to gain a little context on exactly what are the tenets of good freemium design. Aspiring game designers should take note of the dos and don’ts of good game design principles. The guys at Extra Credits can explain the situation far better than I could ever do:

    Microtransactions
    Doing Free to Play Wrong
    Free to Play is Currently Broken
    Power Creep
    • and for a good laugh

    "Freemium - the root of the word is Latin for 'not really'"

    So what are these strategic imperatives for Battle Pirates?

    • It’s All About Player Engagement - everyone in the decision making process needs to give more weight to player engagement (keeping the game fun) vs. what will make the most money. Time and time again it’s been shown that when the game is fun to play, the player will not only spend more money in the long run, but will do so without complaint. But when you create pay walls or the general feeling that the only way to get ahead is to coin, this will create ill will and drive away players. In an operational sense, this means that decision makers need to allow designers to create features that give greater balance to increasing player enjoyment rather than those that focus on squeezing revenues.

    • Understand Why We Play - most of us continue to play for two main reasons: 1) we have an investment of “stuff” we like to build on and show off, and 2) we have an investment in friends we don’t wish to lose. Design choices should be weighted to improving factors that improve on both these areas without attempting to overly monetize them. Higher level players should be allowed to assist lower level players in all facets of non PvP combat. More ship skin customization (without charging), and anything that facilitates alliance or sector comradery should be introduced. Alliance points and buffs need to be increased to show visible impact on gameplay. Create ways of promoting goodwill in the alliance or in the sector. And introduce the Money Bomb! (See Doing Free to Play Wrong video above).

    • Subscriptions – when I was at Zynga we created a program called Subscriptions. Prior to Subscriptions, all purchases were done on a singular microtransaction level. With subscriptions, we offered a voluntary monthly plan (say for $9.95) we would offer the player a regular set of monthly benefits that could include crews, skins, VXP, blueprints, or a number of other items). We even created different subscription levels (Bronze, Silver, or Gold) for players that wanted more items dropped to their account). The not only created a regular payment stream, but in the mind of the player it was a big benefit to get a collection of loot each month, especially if that loot contained rare or unique items.

    • Create Reasons to Return to the Game Each Day: Gacha! In Japan (and now in the West too) a Gacha is toy machine into which a customer puts money into. They then twist a crank and out pops a plastic egg, inside of which appears a prize, usually a collectable toy figure, which is part of a complete set. When applied to games it’s a free gift, usually offered daily, possibly when a manual spin like in a slot machine, and gives the player the reason to log on and play. This has partially been implemented recently with the introduction of reward crews, but it has not been fully realized (and recently has seemed to stop?!?). The free crews are of poor quality, and in many instances I get crews I will never be able to use (I’ve found all the blueprints, so why do I still get awarded the Lucky Bastards crew?) Throw in some other items as daily rewards (skins, VXP, Uranium, Res) and make some of these gachas rare and useful. Award percentages need to be high enough to give the player a sense that they could actually win a rare item eventually.

    • Emphasize Player Progression - players need to be made to feel they have positive momentum in the game. If they ever feel stuck or that they are constantly being hit by higher level players, it will drive them away. New players need time to build their bases and fleets, and they need to be located in areas where they have mentors or alliance members who can look out for them. This not only allows the newer players to gain friends (and one of the main reasons why we play), but also allows the newer players to learn the ins-and-out of the game. And while I understand the issues surrounding the gifting of items, I believe such a feature would greatly enhance the feeling of accomplishment and comradery and should be explored further.

    • Emphasize Skill - As it stands now, there is little skill used in driving fleets. It usually just comes down to the hull/weapons combination with the winner being determined by who has the most powerful combo. If the game allowed for more tactics (formations, setting of combat maneuvers prior to the start of combat, or the reduction in firing capacity based on damage, hull position affects firing direction, etc.), we could give the players the tools to compete against higher ranked fleets.

    • Demonstrate Accomplishment - One of the biggest beefs I have with the game is that I do not feel I am being successful when I run a mission. I am not talking about the general slow progression (which is typical and needed for a long running persistent game), but rather the feeling I get in a raid when my best fleet gets its ass kicked. The design of the missions is such that I must run many cycles against a particular mission to kill all the enemies and declare “Victory!” That is just frustrating. I am not talking about the typical “grind” that you see in games of this type. I am willing to accept a certain level of grind to achieve my goals in a game of this type. But when my fleets are sent to the bottom after 30 seconds of combat then I feel nothing but contempt and disgust. Mission design, point values, and difficulty can all be better balanced to allow the player to feel a sense of accomplishment, while at the same time awarding the right number of points and setting prize point levels in a fashion that better supports the player’s feeling of achievement.

    • Improve Community Outreach - I think everyone will agree that Kixeye has done a generally poor job of keeping the community informed about what is happening with the game, responding to concerns, and generally finding positive ways to promote the success of the game. Establishing a solid community program is not easy, and required a deft hand at messaging the players. It’s too easy for game companies to forego the conversation process because of the trolls and whiners that tend to muck up the communication channel. 90% of the criticisms by players are not constructive, and it’s just easier for the companies to “let it ride”. But avoiding the question is never the solution. Kixeye must find a way to improve its outreach to players, and see ways of pulling new players into the fold. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and their own forums are ways they can get the message out. I know they some messages from moderators do make it out, but the stream is limited in depth, timeliness, and frequency.

    • Address Power Creep (see above video) – Power Creep is a real issue with persistent games. The higher the capacity becomes, the harder it will be fore lower levels to ever catch up or complete. The forthcoming OP7 and the underlying upgrades will only serve the higher levels, while being a hindrance to the lower levels. In other words, it’s taken me three years to achieve Level 69 with modest coining. How long will it take new players to reach a level that is commensurate with my level in the future? When adjusted for the current power trends, I fear it will be much longer. Ways of addressing Power Creep included giving old stuff value by creating “incomparables” (see Power Creep video above), offer separate servers for players of a particular rank, or introduction of “heroes” for players; the concept already exists in BP through the various personalities (Harlock, Greta, Borbas, etc.) – just expand this to the players; hero cards can be earn and used on fleets of differing levels to balance combat.

    • Better Balance New Weapons and Tactics – don’t release a new weapon without a countermeasure. This is just a rookie mistake and allows one weapon type to overpower creating an imbalance in the game.

    I know there are lot more things worth mentioning - most would fall under the feature commentary area which I have tried to avoid (difficulty in obtaining Uranium/high cost associated with its use, ridiculous build/refit times, obvious pay walls constructed to funnel payers, etc – I could go on and on). I believe if the game is to survive that the decision makers for the game need to get back basics, take a longer term view of the continued potential of the game, and start to be more open about what’s going on and how to have more fun! Having been a part of such game releases I have every sympathy for what the Kixeye team is going through, but I have little tolerance for a resignation of efforts due to where they are in the game’s lifecycle. Throwing up one’s hands and not addressing the core issues directly is just lazy game development, and frankly – bad business.

  2. #2
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    Well articulated, and I appreciate the background.

    I agree with the overall statement, and I hope harbin is replaced soon, the head of the company is hollow, the rest of the company is flying blind..

  3. #3
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    Very Good Post.

  4. #4
    Very well written and articulated .... agreed with 98% of it. I personally know a few of the BP 'professionals' and sometimes their hands are tied. It isn't laziness or lack of effort, if it was, I would be more outspoken about it in my post. The game has gone in the wrong direction very quickly. The last year of the past 5 years of playing has been frustrating to say the least and now to reach the 'end' game is sad in my opinion. So at level 79 I am hanging up my Pirate hat, but will still continue to support the community any way I can. Kind regards, OysterShucker

  5. #5
    While I agree with almost everything you say, the only thing I have to add is "you're preaching to the choir".

    These are mostly all things that we have already realized, Sadly, before the powers that be at Kixeye.

  6. #6
    As a large majority of people know me, im sure you are aware i have been playing since alpha and beta. and after 5 years of playing, the last 2 being a slow decline to the garbage heap that is BP now, the majority of the things you have covered are the reason i quit coining over a year ago and the reason im done with BP now. i get on maybe once a day to chat with people and repair a fleet. but soon enough i wont even log on anymore. they have taken my base, which 1 out of maybe 50 hits, would get in. and now anyone with borbas and a half decent design, or these new unreactive ships with corrosive weapons, can just trample me for under 25% damage. its absurd. i refuse to pay or play this joke of a broken game anymore when it has been obvious on an increasingly disgusting scale how much kix does not care about their client base. they constantly ignore what people say and half the time make something we have complained about even worse. making raids where you cant compete unless you have this exact fleet and spen 100+ dollors is a joke, then releasing things that instantly make all other tech obsolete just throws salt in the wound. At this point i feel they have dug the grave to far and there is nothing they can do to fix what they have jacked up in BP.


    So all this being said, anyone reading this should take this all in and seriously debate ever giving them another cent. half the things they release are either OP or they change days after the raid, where most people have paid for it, raid, then paid again to build it, just to have it changed. would you settle for buying a Ferrari, then having a Volkswagen delivered to you instead? just some food for thought.

  7. #7
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    they made a video because SWAG had left

    and how many players play to get everything and expect it built straight-away??

    I play in SECTORS with friends and love the "trial and error" section of the game, working out solutions to the new hulls etc. In fact this year(2015), I've only picked up two hulls and two flags. For three raids I've just grabbed the weapon and tokens. I still have the fusion cruiser to build, but that is low priority now.

    I still maintain we never needed a 3rd or 4th faction, but kixeye caved into the 1000s of yeah sayers who wanted something different, and are now being left further behind.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tide View Post
    they made a video because SWAG had left

    and how many players play to get everything and expect it built straight-away??
    they made a video on day 2 of raid out of desperation cos no one was playing, everyone was bitching and they wanted to show what worked.

    unfortunately theyre such dumbasses they failed to see a guy with 27k coins showing us how to die didnt help any
    All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.

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  9. #9
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    LOL, ya. Showing that many coins was STOOPID!

  10. #10
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    Thank you Sir for a fine article. I fear the future of Battle Pirates is limited and about the only way of saving it is if we the players buy it from Kixeye.

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